– Sue Atkins is a UK-based internationally recognised parenting expert, broadcaster, speaker and author of Parenting Made Easy — How to Raise Happy Children (2012)
My 14-year-old daughter doesn’t speak properly with me. Every conversation ends with her becoming angry, irritated, and agitated. It’s not about one particular issue. She feels I don’t understand her needs. Please advise.
— Preeti Vikas, Delhi
Here are four ways you can build communication bridges with difficult adolescent children.
Try to understand. Start all interactions with the intention of understanding, even if you don’t fully agree or quite comprehend what she is talking about. Your intention should be to discuss — not interrogate — without being confrontational. This will build bridges — not walls — between the two of you.
Don’t take things personally. Don’t get emotional and hurt. Remain neutral during heated arguments.
Be honest. You need to be honest and have faith in her abilities to sort things out with your cooperation. Your vote of confidence will dramatically improve your relationship.
Stay calm. Another rule of thumb is to avoid making decisions when either of you is angry. Don’t respond to her when you are agitated or vice versa. Step back and take a few minutes to calm down before making important decisions.
Remaining at home for almost a year has made my nine-year-old daughter shy and reticent. She used to be an extrovert but has suddenly become diffident and anxious. How to improve her socialisation skills?
— Rita Sharma, Pune
Prolonged social isolation and closure of education institutions because of the Covid-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on children’s socialisation skills. I suggest that you gently and slowly rebuild her social confidence during this difficult time.
Avoid labelling her as ‘shy’ because it might encourage her to act out the role without making an effort to change. Instead, describe her behaviour in other ways. For instance, you could say, “Sheela is thoughtful,” or “She likes to observe before joining conversations.”
Also refrain from overprotecting her. You need to create opportunities for her to learn and practice social skills while helping her manage anxiety. Model speaking confidently in social situations yourself; this will encourage her to emulate you.
Moreover encourage her to read books featuring characters who have overcome struggles with shyness. This is a great way to normalise a child’s experiences and teach her new ways to overcome her diffidence. Some recommendations: I CAN Believe in Myself by Miriam Laundry; Buster the Very Shy Dog by Lisze Bechtold and Maya’s Voice by Wen-Wen Cheng.
My son lives the nocturnal life. He is 13 years old and stays up late and sleeps until late afternoon. I have tried sending him early to bed, altered his diet and banned gadgets before bedtime, but nothing seems to be working. Help!
— Sharada Peter, Chennai
Because of schools closure, many teenage children’s daily schedules have been upended. The good news is that there’s no need to panic as many sleep experts believe that teenagers are naturally more nocturnal.
Natural sleep cycles are determined by each child’s circadian rhythm, which is the human body’s internal clock to regulate the sleep-waking cycle. During adolescence, there’s a tendency for this clock to be delayed. Studies show that the teenage brain doesn’t begin to release melatonin, a hormone that makes us drowsy, until 11 p.m. or midnight, a few hours later than most adults.
Although sleeping in late regularly can sometimes be a sign of depression, if sleep disruptions are not interfering with his daily schedule, then there’s no need to panic.
During adolescence, children crave for a sense of autonomy and independence and want to socialise with friends.
During this difficult pandemic year, you need to support him to find a healthy balance. But also be vigilant about children spending hours after midnight chatting on the Internet with strangers or engaging in other potentially harmful online activities.
Also read: Coping with child bedwetting